The Trump administration is enforcing economic sanctions on Russia, and will deliver a new round of sanctions within 30 days, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Monday.
Mnuchin was speaking to an often rowdy crowd of students and visitors at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations in Los Angeles, where he delivered a brief lecture that was followed by an interview with Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal.
“I can assure you, in Treasury, because we are responsible for this, we are enforcing all the existing sanctions and putting more in place,” he told the audience of the administration’s actions on Russia.
In a wide-ranging interview, Mnuchin also highlighted the administration’s stance on North Korea, saying the Trump White House has more authority to issue sanctions than that of any previous president, and that sanctions should not take decades to achieve desired outcomes.
“These things take some time, but it is not decades, and we've seen evidence that they are already having an impact,” he told Ryssdal. “We want to be careful that we're not doing things … that impact the people. What we're trying to do is cut down [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un]’s ability to do ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.”
On the domestic front, Mnuchin criticized the concentration of assets in a few large banks since the financial crisis. The Trump administration has called for an overhaul of the Dodd-Frank regulations passed in the wake of the crisis, and Mnuchin said new legislation would focus on the role of smaller banks in the economy.
“There is bipartisan support for this, and I think this legislation will be passed in the next three months to modify Dodd-Frank so that commercial banks, regional banks, community banks can succeed,” he said.
Facing several questions on the recently enacted tax law, Mnuchin reiterated the administration’s talking points that the cuts would stimulate both economic and wage growth, and claimed that growth will offset the estimated $1.4 trillion most economists and the Congressional Budget Office say the plan will add to the deficit.
On trade, while he affirmed that bilateral trade deals are more of a priority for the Trump administration, Mnuchin continued to dial back the administration’s typically skeptical stance on multilateral trade deals, saying there are ongoing discussions about the possibility of the United States rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“I think they have a lot of interest,” he said of the current TPP members. “I've met with them a lot recently, and to the extent that they are absolutely willing to have discussions with the United States, if that's something we want to pursue.”
His statements follow President Trump’s comments expressing openness to the idea in Davos, Switzerland last month.
Mnuchin also took several audience questions. One audience member asked the secretary about whether changes to U.S. trade and foreign aid policy would yield global benefits.
“What's good for the United States economy is good for the world,” Mnuchin said. “That doesn't mean if the United States succeeds the world will succeed, because there are all different types of complicated issues right now around the world.”
At least two demonstrators were forcibly removed from the venue for shouting criticisms of the Trump administration’s stance on North Korea and the recent tax law, and there were several Marie Antoinette-themed protests. A “let them eat cake” demonstration outside the venue featured two cakes served to a group of children, and a couple in costumes of the 18th century French king and queen sat in the venue for the duration of the program. Others in the room attempted to shout down protesters and expressed support for administration policies.